Bukovynian Style

Historic St. Elias Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Sirko, MB

Bukovina was an ethnically mixed province in the Austro-Hungarian Empire with no one ethnic group having an outright majority. At the beginning of the 20th century Ukrainian speaking and Romanian speaking peoples were respectively the two largest minorities, together making up over 80% of the population. Both of these ethnic groups were almost entirely Orthodox Christians. As a result, Bukovynian style churches in Canada were erected to serve Orthodox communities in most instances.

The Bukovynian style is one of the least sophisticated of the traditional styles of Ukrainian church architecture. The floor plan is basically rectangular with a polygonal or rounded apse on the east side. In many instances one finds that both the east and the west ends of the church are apsidal shaped and the church’s shape may seem to be almost elliptical. In these cases, the only entrance will likely be from the southwest side of the church.

If there is a belfry, it is generally a freestanding structure built close to the church but usually not attached to the church.
The St. Elias Ukrainian Orthodox Parish in Sirko, Manitoba, preserved a beautiful example of a Bukovynian style church. The parish built a larger new church in the 1950s but saw the need to keep the old one dating from 1909. The old church and bell tower are now designated a historic site.

Along with its tiered bell tower, the St. Elias church bears a striking resemblance to St. Nicholas Church that used to be located in Berehomet, Ukraine (a village that was in the former Austro-Hungarian province of Bukovyna). St. Nicholas Church was relocated to the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life in Chernivtsi, Ukraine.

As is often the case with this style of church, the entrance to St. Elias is at the southwest corner of the church. In this case the parish painted two interesting looking crosses on the doors that I have not seen on other Bukovynian churches.

Detail of the doors of St. Elias Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Sirko, MB

Practically all of the Bukovynian-style churches in Canada were built on the Prairies prior to 1918. They were generally made of logs that were packed with a clay and straw mix, and then whitewashed on the exterior. Of those still remaining today, the walls are generally covered with wood siding. If the church is well maintained, it is likely still to be painted white.

The Bukovynian-style churches frequently have hipped roofs or rooflines that are splayed at the end and the roofs are typically high pitched. The eaves are usually wide-hanging and sometimes one sees that brackets support the eaves. This is clearly exemplified in the Sirko church. The wide eaves were useful to keep the rain water away from walls, thus avoiding deterioration. Most of these churches originally would have had thatched roofs that were replaced with shingled roofs as funds became available to the parish.

When they settled on the Canadian Prairies it was not unusual in the early days for Bukovynians of both Ukrainian and Romanian backgrounds to establish and share a church together. However, when their numbers justified it, the two ethnic groups would eventually go their separate ways and establish their own churches. Such was the case with St. Elie Church at Lennard, Manitoba, where one can see a great example of a typical Bukovynian style church also built in 1909. The Ukrainian portion of the congregation later built their own church a short distance away. Today, the St. Elie church is also a designated historic site.

St. Elie Orthodox Church (OCA), Lennard, MB,
once served both Ukrainian and Romanian communities

This church style is not known for having large domes and often there are no domes at all. Rather, one will find three crosses paced across the roofline with one at each end and one in the centre. If there are cupolas at all, they are fairly diminutive and are placed across the roofline in the same manner as the three crosses. One sees a good example of this in St. Michael Orthodox Church, located about 10 miles south of Veregin, Saskatchewan. In this instance, neither one of the ends of the church are apsidal shaped and there is a slight widening of the middle of the structure, which indicates a hint of Hutsul or Boyko influence. However the high-pitched hipped roof with its wide eaves testify that the builders were from Bukovyna. Ukrainians founded the parish in 1925.

St. Michael Orthodox Church (OCA), south of Veregin, SK

Another particularly interesting church of this style is St. Demetrius Orthodox Church located 9 miles northeast of Preeceville, Saskatchewan. In this instance the east end of the church has a hexagonal apse with a splayed roof, while the west end of the church is flat with a hipped roof. The three crosses with their traditional placement were ornately wrought. St. Demetrius was built between 1905 and 1907.

St. Demetrius Orthodox Church (OCA) near Preeceville, SK